By Lucy Ashton
Christmas nights out across Scotland face disruption this weekend as strikes cripple the rail network.
ScotRail is only running 12 routes in the central belt, Fife and the Borders until Sunday after RMT members at Network Rail rejected the latest offer from their employers.
Hospitality bosses have warned the industrial action is harming firms at a crucial time of year for business.
Union leaders the public have shown”phenomenal support” to workers.
The RMT members at Network Rail walked out on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday as part of a long running UK-wide dispute over pay with the track operator.
Many of the staff taking part in the strike do safety-critical jobs which means it is not possible for ScotRail, which is not involved in the dispute, to run the majority of its services.
Network Rail has advised people not to travel on trains unless it is absolutely necessary.
The RMT has scheduled further strike action from 18:00 on Christmas Eve until 06:00 on 27 December, while members of the smaller TSSA union will walk out at three train companies between 26 and 29 December.
Colin Wilkinson, managing director for the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA), said the strikes were having a “major impact” on businesses in the last weekend before Christmas and beyond.
“It’s certainly not the bumper season our operators were looking for, we’re hearing trade is down by around 30%,” he told BBC Radio’s Good Morning Scotland (GMS) programme.
Mr Wilkinson pointed out there were a range of issues affecting hospitality firms, with consumers struggling with the high cost of living.
“There’s problems with a shortage of taxis, late-night public transport, lack of staff, so it’s a very difficult season for the trade but definitely the rail strikes are having a major impact,” he said.
Hospitality bosses expect to generate about 30% of annual turnover over the festive season, the SLTA chief said. “That’s certainly not going to be the case now. We’re certainly seeing a major drop and a lot more cancellations coming in.”
Mr Wilkinson added: “It’s not only for nights out that we’re seeing increases in cancellations for, it’s short-stay vacations, family gatherings, particularly because of rail travel concerns.”
He said the SLTA was also “bitterly disappointed” by the Scottish budget after calls for a 75% rates relief package for businesses were not implemented.
The SLTA chief said: “In our 140 year history … I’ve never seen anything like this before. It’s it’s actually worse than Covid because we don’t have the support.”
The Scottish government said its budget, which included a freeze on non-domestic rates, would save business tax rate payers £308 million compared with an inflationary increase.
Gordon Martin, RMT regional organiser, told BBC Scotland: “The last thing we want to do is inconvenience the public.”
He said the public had shown the union “phenomenal support” throughout the dispute, which began in June.
“The public know what’s at stake, because other groups of workers are on strike,” Mr Martin said.
“Whether it’s rail workers, postal workers, NHS staff. We are all members of the public and the only people that are out of touch with public opinion is the unelected prime minister and an out-of-touch right-wing government in Westminster.”
He said that as well as pay, the union had concerns about cuts to maintenance work that he said could endanger lives.
The RMT chief added: “Nobody wants to be on strike. We want a negotiated settlement to get our members back to work as soon as possible.
“And we hope that the government, either between now and the new year or shortly after the new year, will realise that they need the railways as a driver of economic growth.”
Business Secretary Grant Shapps told Radio 4’s Today that while he supported the right to strike “people should also have the right to go about their lives”.
He said: “Some of the people most affected by strikes, particularly on the railways, are not people who can sit at home behind their computer but the hospital porter, the cleaner, who have to physically go to work.”
Saturday is the fourth day of strikes this week and the 12th since the RMT union voted for industrial action in the summer. Disruption is also likely on Sunday, a non-strike day, due to morning services starting later.
David Simpson, ScotRail service delivery director, said: “We’re advising customers to seek alternative means of transport and to only travel if they really need to on the days of strike action. Customers should check their journey in advance to make sure your train is running.”
Which ScotRail services are running?
ScotRail said the railway would only be operational between 07:30 and 18:30 today Saturday.
The services that will run are:
Edinburgh – Glasgow via Falkirk High: Two trains per hour
Edinburgh – Helensburgh: Two trains per hour
Edinburgh – Glasgow via Shotts: One train per hour
Edinburgh – Cowdenbeath: Two trains per hour
Edinburgh – Tweedbank: Two trains per hour
Edinburgh – North Berwick: One train per hour
Edinburgh – Larbert: One train per hour
Glasgow – Larbert: One train per hour
Glasgow – Falkirk Grahamston: One train per hour
Glasgow – Hamilton/Larkhall: Two trains per hour
Glasgow – Lanark: Two trains per hour
Milngavie – Springburn: Two trains per hour
Final services will depart well before 18:30, and customers are being urged to plan ahead to ensure they know when their last train will run.